Weekend XC Preview: Battle in Beantown & Roy Griak Invitational Headline the Season’s First Weekend That Actually Counts For Anything

By LetsRun.com
September 24, 2015

The leaves have started to turn, the NFL is in full swing and now, mercifully, college cross country races actually means something. While the 2015 college cross country season is officially three weeks old, the meets to this point have served as little more than throat-clearing for the top teams and individuals around the country. Few teams have shown all of their cards and any wins they banked didn’t count for NCAA qualifying purposes.

Of course, there are some who would say that even though teams can now gain at-large points at meets (the window opens Friday), the college cross country season doesn’t really start until two weeks before conference (Pre-Nats/Wisconsin weekend). You could even argue that for some schools, the only meet that matters all season is the NCAA Championship, which doesn’t roll around until November 21.

But there is some value to the regular season. It provides a look at which teams and individuals are in good form, and for teams in the 15-40 range nationally, meets such as the Wisconsin adidas Invitational are critical for acquiring those precious at-large points. And we doubt you could find a coach in America willing to say on record that their conference meet is meaningless.

So with that preamble, let’s take a look at this weekend’s action, highlighted by big invitationals on the East Coast and in the Heartland.

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Full USTFCCCA schedule of weekend meets

Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown (Boston, Friday, 3:00 p.m. ET) * 2014 LRC coverage

Ranked teams (men’s race): No. 3 Syracuse, No. 26 Florida State

Ranked teams (women’s race): No. 4 Georgetown, No. 8 Providence, No. 19 Syracuse, No. 25 Dartmouth

Full list of entrants: Albany, Boston College, Boston University (women only), Brown, Cornell (men only), Dartmouth, Fordham, Florida State, Georgetown (women only), Hartford (women only), Harvard, Lipscomb (women only), Northeastern, Providence (women only), Purdue, St. John’s (women only), Stony Brook, Syracuse, UConn, Georgia, Maine, UMass, UMass-Lowell, New Hampshire, Army

This meet loses a little star power from last year, especially with the absence of Oregon, but the women’s race is the best of the weekend, headlined by No. 4 Georgetown vs. No. 8 Providence. Though we won’t know who’s running for each school until Friday, assuming both teams are close to full strength, the winner should gain a nice confidence boost. Expect to see plenty of Hoyas and Friars in the top pack, but watch out for No. 19 Syracuse and No. 25 Dartmouth, both of whom are entered as well.

Syracuses Justyn Knight Syracuse’s Justyn Knight

Individually, Georgetown’s Samantha Nadel (who won the JMU Invitational on September 12) and the Providence duo of Catarina Rocha and Sarah Collins (who went 1-2 at the Nassaney Invitational on September 12) are among the top runners. Dartmouth’s Dana Giordano (who won the Dartmouth Invitational on September 12), 2014 All-American Andrea Keklak of Georgetown and Syracuse’s Margo Malone figure to be in the mix as well.

The men’s race is much more clear-cut. Syracuse, which put nine in the top 25 last year, should win this one in a rout as the only other ranked team is No. 26 Florida State. Individually, it will be a battle between the Orange duo of Martin Hehir (4th last year) and Justyn Knight and New England native Matt McClintock of Purdue. McClintock was 19th at nationals last fall and finished seventh in the 10,000 at NCAAs in June and could run away with it Hehir and Knight decide to pack it up with their teammates rather than give chase. We should also get a look at juco stud Harry Mulenga, who will be running with the big boys after transferring to Florida State. Mulenga won 9 NJCAA titles at Central Arizona and the Zambian should be competitive immediately with the best the NCAA has to offer.

Ivy League fans, you get a mini conference preview here as half of the league is competing on the men’s side (Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth and Harvard): MB: Official 2015 Heps XC thread. Will Dartmouth or Cornell emerge as a potential rival to the juggernaut known as Princeton?

Roy Griak Invitational (Saturday, 1:20 p.m. ET) Meet website

Ranked teams (men’s race): No. 22 Colorado State, No. 25 Michigan State, No. 29 California

Ranked teams (women’s race): No. 2 Iowa State, No. 6 Michigan State, No. 20 Boise State, No. 26 Minnesota, No. 30 California

For the first time in its 30-year history, the Roy Griak Invitational will take place without its namesake and co-founder in attendance as the longtime Gopher coach died on July 9 at age 91 (MB: RIP Roy Griak – A Legend). The host University of Minnesota will try to win one in his memory, but it won’t be easy. The Gopher men (whose last win came in 2012) received votes in the most recent USTFCCCA coaches’ poll (they’re tied for No. 39 overall) but will have to beat three ranked teams in No. 22 Colorado State, No. 25 Michigan State and No. 29 California. The Minnesota women are ranked higher (No. 26) but they also have tougher opponents in No. 6 Michigan State and No. 20 Boise State.

Michigan States Rachele Schulist Michigan State’s Rachele Schulist

There is some hope for a women’s victory (Minnesota’s last win came in 2008) but it depends on Michigan State and Iowa State. The Spartans won this race — and every other one they ran — handily last year but they lost several top runners to graduation and two of their four returners from NCAAs last year, Lindsay Clark and Katie Landwehr, are coming back from injury and have not raced yet this fall. If they’re out on Saturday, it will be up to Rachele Schulist (who is the top returner, taking 5th here last year) and Ali Wiersma (22nd last year, 2nd at last week’s Spartan Invitational) to carry a young squad.

Iowa State was second behind Michigan State at Roy Griak (and NCAAs) last fall and on paper this should be a titanic matchup, but the Cyclones will also be shorthanded after it was announced earlier this week that top returner Crystal Nelson won’t run this fall. Even without Nelson, though, Iowa State is still very strong, led by Bethanie Brown and Brit Becky Straw.

Schulist, who was fourth at NCAAs last fall, will be favored to win, but there are a couple other women who should be interesting to watch. Cal’s Bethan Knights was the #3 freshman at NCAAs last year (25th) and should race here after winning the San Francisco Invitational on September 5. Boise State is also entered, so that means we should see 2014 NXN champion Allie Ostrander, assuming she’s not too tired from winning the junior race at the World Mountain Running Championships last weekend in Wales.

The men’s race figures to be wide-open, much as it was last year when Nate Jewkes and Southern Utah claimed the individual and team titles. Five teams scored within 20 points of SUU’s winning score of 142 and this year’s men’s field should be similarly bunched. SUU jumped from unranked to 22nd in the national polls after winning Roy Griak, and if the unranked Thunderbirds do the same in 2015, they could see a similar jump.

Individually, top returner Caleb Rhynard of Michigan State won’t race. That leaves the Cal duo of Chris Walden (4th last year) and Thomas Joyce (3:39/13:34) as favorites, though they’ll be pushed by Jerrell Mock of Colorado State (7th in ’14), Aaron Bartnik of Minnesota (8th) and Hayden Hawks of Southern Utah (13:51/28:53). As good as Joyce is on the track, he’s never made NCAAs in xc as his highest regional finish in the West is just 67th.

Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational (Earlysville, Va., Saturday, 10 a.m. ET) 

Ranked teams (men’s race):  No. 9 Virginia, No. 18 Furman, No. 20 Eastern Kentucky

Ranked teams (men’s race): No. 16 Virginia

Entries: Virginia (No. 9 men/No. 16 women), Auburn, Bowling Green (W), Butler (M), Campbell (M), Coastal Carolina, Eastern Kentucky (No. 20 men), Eastern Michigan (W), Furman (No. 18 men), High Point, Hofstra, Liberty, Morehead State, Oklahoma, Radford, Wake Forest, Yale

The Cavaliers should sweep both races but the men will face a challenge in No. 18 Furman, who fell to the Cavs by just four points in 2014.

Stanford Invitational (Stanford, Calif., Saturday, 12:50 p.m. ET)Entries

The No. 2 Stanford men and No. 5 Stanford women will both compete here, but with substantially weakened squads. All-Americans Sean McGorty and Joe Rosa are both listed on the entry sheet, but that’s about it. On the women’s side, there’s no Elise Cranny, Aisling Cuffe or Vanessa Fraser, but North Dakota State’s Erin Teschuk, who competed for Canada at Worlds this summer in the steeplechase, is entered.

Cowboy Jamboree (Stillwater, Okla., Sunday, 10:15 a.m. ET) * Meet website

The No. 5 OSU men will race here against No. 11 Northern Arizona, but considering NAU won’t be running two of its top runners, Futsum Zienasellassie or Nathan Weitz in this or any race this fall — the Cowboys should have an easy go of it. On the women’s side, No. 28 Oklahoma State is obviously entered, but we can’t tell you much beyond that as entries aren’t posted on the meet website.

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